PARIS — As the world's premier maker of luxury leather goods, Hermés creates treasured items from the most beautiful materials on earth. The art of craftsmanship remains the company hallmark.
But for inspiration, designers retreat to a small space above the famed Hermés Paris flagship store on Faubourg Saint-Honoreè. Here, in what was once the office of Émile-Maurice Hermés, who headed the company from the 1920s until his death in 1951, they return to the past amid the many treasures the Hermés family collected over the years.
"It's really more of a family collection than a museum," said Menehould de Bazelaire, director of cultural heritage and curator of the the Hermés Museum, as we embarked on an exclusive private tour.
Indeed, the museum, which is not open to the public but has been periodically made available for tours over the years to select guests like Andy Warhol and Gen. George Patton, is more like an old family home with a fascinating collection of items found on worldwide travels.
"It's a mirror of the spirit of Hermés," de Bazelaire said.
While our private tour took place several years ago, the museum remains timeless, as these photos, which have never been published before, indicate.
In the glass case: A royal carriage created from the art of paperole (paper slips rolled between finger and thumb). The paperole designs have appeared on classic Hermés scarves.
The desk of Emile-Maurice Hermés. He began collecting at the age of 12, when he acquired a black walking stick, and carefully chose rare and sometimes quirky treasures throughout his life. Note all of the lapis pieces on his desk.
Many of the treasured Hermés pieces are located in a long rectangular room with burnished oak walls, green velvet draperies and wood floor that creak. A large number of the objects relate to the words of travel, the horse and the hunt, all of which serve as inspiration for Hermés designers.
The equestrian heritage of Hermés shines through at the museum. "The horse is like at home here," de Bazelaire said, adding that the museum exists "not to conserve. It is to live with the past, not ride on the past."
Packed and ready to go, with these classic suitcases. Émile-Maurice Hermés traveled to Russia, the United States and Canada in the early 1900s to develop new markets. His friends included automotive visionary Louis Renault and he soon developed products for the changes in transportation.
Émile-Maurice was among the first to see the virtures of the zipper, or "Hermes Fastener." He obtained the patent for the zipper and, in a revolutionary move, used it to close bags and clothing. It was used in one of the early leather handbags, shown here, designed for his wife. It was elegant and simple, with no decoration and nothing to hide.
He launched this classic Hermes bag at an automobile fair in Paris in 1923. She continued to use it in the 1960s, 10 years after his death — and it continued to look modern and contemporary.
During Jean Paul Gaultier's seven-year tenure as Hermés womens wear designer, he often visited the museum for inspiration. His last Hermés collection was spring/summer 2011.
Gaultier wasn't the only one. The company's main designers visit the space regularly to come up with ideas that might appear in the print of a scarf, a piece of jewelry or the design of an ashtray. "Happily after this encounter with the past, always something happens here," de Bazelaire said.
"You can find treasures in old things. That is very important for Hermes," de Bazelaire said. Among the treasures: A parasol made of pheasant feathers.
Have tea, will travel: A portable tea service for the on-the-go traveler in another era.
A classic portrait above the museum elevator.
A carriage is displayed in a prominent place above a glass skylight that looks down into the iconic Hermés flagship store.
The 18th-century dog collar that first inspired Hermés accessory designers in the 1920s remains a motif in bracelets and fasteners on clothing.
"You can see many angles of view, you find something fresh," de Bazelaire explained. The detail of a saddle, \shown here, can be found in the design of the Hermés Cheval d'Orient china collection.
Though it is a 21st century company, Hermés continues to honor its past. In an adjoining workshop, leather craftsmen with years of experience make handcrafted saddles for clients from around the world.
Talley ho: Red jackets and a bugle to herald a fox hunting adventure.
"The two-room museum is a veritable time machine that whisks visitors back a century to an epoch when one still traveled by horse, and life for the rich and noble was extremely refined. On the oak-panele wall hang equestrian prints, carriage lanterns, silver spurs, leather crops, and harnesses, some decorated with royal coats of arms. Scattered about are hand-tooled saddles, trunks, toiletry cases, and a children's carriage from the reign of Napolen I."
— from Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Luster, by Dana Thomas
A faux wall of books leads to another room, which only goes to show there is magic everywhere in the secret world of Hermés.